If you are new to cooking (or even not-so-new) the overwhelming task of deciphering a recipe can be as daunting as learning a foreign language. There’s braising and poaching, steaming and frying, roasting and grilling and en papillote? Wait, that’s an actual foreign language. What does it all mean and what cooking technique are we suppose to use and when?
Let's explore the world of complete cooking techniques!
When I teach baking classes I don’t teach my students how to follow a recipe, but rather I show them how the ingredients work and interact with one another. That way, they control the recipe instead of letting the recipe control them. The same is true for cooking techniques. When you understand the language and what each of these techniques do, you are able to roast a chicken for crisped skin or braise a tough pork shoulder into tender submission.
This is only the beginning, we could talk for days on the complete cooking techniques and terms but we have to start somewhere and this is a very good place to start.
Roasting is a dry-heat form of cooking. It uses hot air to cook meat, vegetables or fruit. This dry heat creates browning in the form of caramelization of the natural sugars or through the Maillard reaction. Roasting is what gives chicken a crisped, richly flavored skin and tender interior. It intensifies the sweetness of fruit and crisps of vegetables while making them sweet and tender.
Try roasting strawberries with sugar and a bit of lemon to create a deeply flavored jam. Or roast a large tray of vegetables before blending them with stock to make a rich and healthful soup.
Braising uses a moist-heat to turn tough cuts of meat into a tender and flavorful dinner. Food is cooked at a low temperature partially submerge in a liquid (wine, stock, cream, etc.) slowly. Braising is not just for meat, however. Have you ever had brussels sprouts braised in cream? It’s one of the best ways I know how to convince the most die-hard brussels haters that they actually do enjoy this often loathed vegetable. Braising can be done in the oven or on the stove-top.
This is a very delicate way to cook. It involves a liquid (water, stock, etc.) gently simmering below the food; the food is elevated above, and the hot steam produced from the bubbling liquid tenderly cooks the food. This technique is very healthful as there is no additional fat used for cooking. It’s often used in asian cuisines. Fish takes to this method beautifully.
Blanching involves a quick plunge into boiling water until whatever you are cooking is just cooked or partially cooked, and then immediately submerging the product in ice cold water in order to stop the cooking process. This is done often with vegetables to preserve the color and shape.
Is French for "in parchment." The Italians say, al cartoccio for this method of cooking in which you fold up your food, like a little package, in parchment paper. The package is then baked. This technique is often used with delicate fish and other fragrant ingredients are added like herbs or lemon. Within the little parchment bundle a gentle, moist heat is created which then steams whatever is inside.
This technique makes a lovely presentation when you present the bundled up package at the table then carefully open it up allowing the aroma to entice your guests before they descend on the perfectly cooked food inside.
Broiling uses dry, direct heat to sear or deeply caramelize whatever you are cooking. Often, I’ll use this technique at the end of roasting if, say, my carrots are tender, but I want a bit more char. Move the oven rack up to the top third of the oven, and turn the broiler to high to get a quick, final sear that adds more depth of flavor and textural contrast in the dish.
This is a technique most often done on the stove in which fruit, vegetables, meat or eggs are gently submerged and cooked in a liquid (water, stock, juice, wine, etc.). Think peaches tenderly bathed in simmering cinnamon scented muscat then served warm, over vanilla ice cream.